It is not just the diversity of skin that is important, we need the diversity of thought and believe to drive innovation. During my academic pursuits, I have come across individuals who thought I got to where I am because I was black. The scholarships I received were looked at as the black scholarships, not considering my merits and effort that put me in the position to even be evaluated. A mentor once told me, so what If you received funding set aside specifically for student of color. On graduation day, it won’t matter if you are black, white or yellow, you will all be doctors. We need different people from different background doing different things and below is why I think that is important.
I think diversity is critical for change because it enabled a thorough look at issues through multiple lenses. While the core of any problem may be universal, how people are affected by any problem depends on time, location, and the perception of the problem. Gathering individuals with different academic, professional and personal backgrounds in the same space allows for a multifactorial approach to problem-solving that encompass the needs of everyone. And this drives innovation. I graduated from undergraduate with a BS in Conservation Biology. However, it was not until my senior year that I realized I was interested in something else. I started to lean in the direction of biomedical research and potentially pursuing a research career. Unfortunately, I did not have the background to confidently send an application to a biomedical science program, so, I took two years off from school to focus my interest and improve my academic standing. In this time, I worked on scientific integrity research in Washington DC. Following that opportunity, I worked in a retroviral repository lab. After that, I applied and was accepted into a one-year Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program where I worked alongside graduate students on my own research project. I walked in with no prior experience and became a dependable point person in the lab.
So, what exactly is different about me?
I offer a different perspective on how a student can major in one degree at one institution and over time, work to gain the required experience to enter into an entirely different field of study. In addition to my ethnic background, as a conservation biology major, I have an appreciation for the political, social and economic risk factors that lead to disease susceptibility and severity which extends beyond the background of a classical biomedical science student.
I would not have imagined myself as a biomedical science Ph.D. student after leaving undergrad with a degree in conservation biology. I carefully thought about my actions and how they will affect my long-term goals, personally and professionally. Staying focused was important because if I wanted to compete with my peers, I had to learn fast. I am a dual citizen. I was born and raised in Kenya, and so I overcame a lot of barriers in my academic pursuits.
It is through sharing stories like this, can we show other students that it does not matter where one comes from, all that matters is where they want to go.